How to Save Money on Pet Care Costs

Woman With Dog Plugs In Electric Vehicle to Charge

A pet's adorable antics and unconditional love can fill your heart with joy. But if you're not careful, owning a pet can also drain your bank account. The expense of day-to-day pet ownership—not to mention routine and emergency pet care—can really add up, siphoning money from an otherwise healthy budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce the cost of owning a pet.

How Much Does Owning a Pet Cost?

If you feel like your bank account has been shrinking since you brought your furry friend home, it's not your imagination. The ASPCA estimates the annual cost of owning a pet at $1,391 for a dog and $1,149 for a cat. These expenses include:

  • Pet food
  • Routine medical costs (exams, vaccinations)
  • Preventive medication (flea and tick, heartworm)
  • Cat litter
  • License
  • Toys and treats
  • Pet insurance
  • Grooming supplies

Dental care can add another $500 annually for a dog and $300 for a cat; professional dog grooming could set you back an additional $300 or more per year. When you travel, you'll have to either board your pet at a kennel or hire a pet sitter.

Dog owners who need dog day care will face additional costs. You may even pay more for homeowners insurance if you own a pit bull or other breed considered aggressive.

Ways to Save Money on Pet Ownership

Unless you monitor your pet care expenses, you may not realize how much you're spending. Track all your pet-related expenses for a month or so to get a realistic idea of how much your pet costs. Then review your budget (or create one) to account for these expenses.

Unanticipated pet expenses like medical emergencies can upend your pet care budget. To prepare for such a situation, consider increasing your emergency fund to handle the unexpected.

To save money on your pet, start with preventive measures:

  • Maintain your pet's health. Just as with humans, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep your pet on a healthy diet to maintain an ideal weight. Brush their teeth and get professional dental care as recommended by your vet; tooth decay can cause serious health problems. Get your pet vaccinated and protect them from pests, such as fleas and ticks, that can carry disease. Some veterinary colleges offer veterinary care at reduced rates; keep an eye out for low- or no-cost vaccine clinics in your area.
  • Guard against injuries. Look around your home with an eye to pet threats. Pet-proof your living space by keeping electrical cords, household chemicals, trash cans, medications and breakable decor out of reach.
  • Be proactive with vet visits. If you suspect something is wrong with your pet, head to the vet. Don't wait for an injury to get infected or strange symptoms to turn into an illness. Catching medical problems early will minimize treatment costs while enhancing your pet's quality of life.

You can also use these money-saving tactics:

  • Shop around. Whether you're buying pet food or flea collars, look for affordable options. For instance, you can often save on pet food by shopping at a membership warehouse store, joining pet store loyalty programs or buying in bulk. Watch for sales and search for discount codes online before you buy.
  • Save on pet prescriptions. Your vet writes the prescription, but buying elsewhere could cut your costs significantly. Pet medication websites often offer lower prices than veterinary offices. Some warehouse clubs such as Costco even sell pet medications at reduced cost.
  • Do it yourself. From training to grooming, you can reduce or eliminate many pet care costs with the DIY method. Get a book on dog training or grooming to learn the ropes; you'll save time as well as money. Use weekend visits to the dog park to socialize Fido instead of sending him to doggie day care.
  • Get creative. Why shell out for pricey pet toys? Turn an old sock, rope or tennis ball into a dog toy or give your cat an empty cardboard box or paper bag. Both you and your pet will enjoy hours of entertainment. You can even make your own pet treats and pet beds.
  • Look for free stuff. Use The Freecycle Network, Craigslist, Nextdoor and Facebook to find local "freecycling" groups of people who give away things they no longer want. These can be good places to look for big-ticket items like dog strollers, cat trees or dog crates.
  • Find low-cost pet sitters. Pet boarding can take a big bite out of your travel budget. Ask a trusted friend, neighbor or family member to watch your pet instead; they may even be willing to pet sit for free.

Should You Get Pet Insurance?

A big vet bill can strike a blow to your budget, and it's impossible to predict if or when your pet will become ill or injured. Consider purchasing pet insurance for a financial cushion.

Most pet insurance carriers sell three types of coverage: accident and illness; accident-only; and wellness, which pays for preventive care only. Pet insurance isn't cheap—in 2020, the average annual cost of an accident and illness policy was $594 for dogs and $342 for cats—but like auto, home or health insurance, it can prevent your bank account from taking a financial hit.

Before buying pet insurance, carefully compare the coverage and benefits offered by various plans and insurance carriers. In general, the cost of pet insurance is determined by your pet's species, breed, age and overall health; how much and what kind of coverage you buy; your deductible; and the percentage of your costs the plan reimburses.

Choosing a bigger deductible (your out-of-pocket cost before insurance starts to pay) or a lower reimbursement level (70% instead of 90%, for instance) can lower pet insurance premiums. You'll typically pay less for accident-only coverage than for an accident and illness premium. Some carriers also offer coverage for specific conditions, such as cancer.

Do insurance companies use your credit score to set your pet insurance rates? Some other insurance carriers do, but whether this is a common practice with pet insurance, no one is quite sure. It's always smart to maintain a good credit score, which you can monitor for free with Experian, but it probably won't affect how much you pay for pet insurance.

Care for Your Pet—and Your Finances

Gourmet pet treats, fancy pet furniture, dog Halloween costumes—with so many ways to spoil your beloved pet, it's easy for pet care spending to soar out of control. By taking a few simple steps, however, you can lower the cost of pet ownership while keeping your pet healthy and happy.